""Piti piti n a rive." Little by little we will arrive. - Father Gerard Jean-Juste
Kay Lasante, "House of Health," is a health care project in Port au Prince, Haiti. Kay Lasante was founded by the St. Claire Parish community in Haiti and the House of Grace Catholic Worker,
Phila., Pa. together with Bishop Tom Gumbleton, Detroit,MI.
In February, 2004, a small group from the US traveled to Haiti on a human rights delegation. While sitting and talking one day on the balcony of Matthew 25 House with Fr. Gerard Jean Juste, at that time the Pastor of St. Claire Parish, Fr. Jean Juste shared that a food program had been started in his parish. However, he said, there was still a great need in the community for health care services. He appealed to us for help. Having spent the previous four days witnessing the dire poverty in Haiti, we felt a deep desire to help. After a period of discernment and a couple of trips back to Haiti to assess the situation, Johanna Berrigan of the House of Grace Community together with Tom Gumbleton made a commitment to Fr. Jean Juste and the parish community to assist them in realizing their dream of health care for their community.
The clinic structure and strategy is inspired by the Partners In Health model. We had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners In Health, to discuss how we might accomplish the goal of establishing a health care project. Following this meeting, we realized the importance of establishing a project that would be operated and maintained by the Haitian community. Thus, our work began.
We started by holding meetings with young women aspiring to be community health outreach workers. These women were chosen by Fr. Jean Juste and the parish community.
We created an association, a mission statement, and began education classes for the community outreach workers. Education for the community health outreach workers was the main focus at the start of the project. Gradually, each worker accepted a designated geographical area for which they were responsible. They began to do health assessments for each family in their designated area. The workers became known in the community as advocates and people to whom the community could turn for help. We provided supplies for basic first aid.
In the early years, the formation of the project, the education of the community outreach workers, and outreach services in the community were taking place simultaneously. Though it seemed a slow process, it was gratifying and uplifting to make return visits and see the growth of the project. We could also see how the outreach workers were growing in maturity and dignity.
The catastrophic earthquake of January, 2010 marked a major turning point for Haiti and the Kay Lasante project. Within a very short time after the earthquake, Johanna and Tom organized a delegation of health care personnel to go to Haiti. Once there, the community health outreach workers assisted our team to provide care for those who had not received care since the earthquake. We set up a make-shift clinic outside on a cleared open empty lot. The outreach workers worked in an organized, efficient manner.
Though it was a devastating time, we marveled over how much they had learned and grown professionally. Though they were saddened that they didn't have more to offer the suffering by way of supplies and expertise, they grew in understanding of what their presence and skills meant to the community. They were energized and eager to continue with their education and the project in order to serve the community. In a short time after that first visit, we hired a Physician and set up a "MASH-type" tent in the field and that served as a clinic for the next eight months.
Since those days after the earthquake, the clinic has flourished and become even more deeply rooted within the community. Currently, we rent a beautiful building in Caradeux, and the clinic is open four days a week. We have learned even more about the greatest health needs of the community and have focused our efforts in those directions.
Two days per week are designated for primary care, one day for pediatrics, and one day for acupuncture treatments and follow-up care for patients with hypertension and diabetes. Our staff consists of: one physician, four nurses, one pharmacist, 2 community health outreach workers, an administrator, a patient records and documents manager, and a housekeeper. The Kay Lasante staff treats approximately 40 people each day.
The work of the project encompasses: primary care at Kay Lasante clinic, community outreach involving health education, disease prevention services and follow-up care for patients who require more intensive treatment, and supporting the educational goals of the staff members.
In addition to much-needed health care services in the community, one of the most exciting aspects of the project is that five of the community health outreach workers are continuing their education. Each one has a goal in mind: lab technician, nurse, doctor, midwife. We are pleased and eager to continue to accompany them as they achieve these goals. One worker remarked recently that her life had been transformed by the experience with the Kay Lasante community health care project.
Sadly, Fr. Gerard Jean Juste passed away of leukemia on May 27th, 2009. We continue to be inspired by his passion for human rights. We continue to accompany the members of St. Claire parish. We realize that the dream of health care for the community has begun to be fulfilled. However, the needs of the people of Haiti are unending. We are humbled by this opportunity to partner with the parish community, and we continue to feel Fr. Gerry's spirit with us always.